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Phone scammers target Sun City Center residents

SUN CITY CENTER — Sheriff's deputies have a message for elderly residents: Beware of persons asking for money over the phone.

The deputies' concern comes after a recent telephone scam in which a caller posed as a New York City police officer and convinced a local couple their grandson would go to jail if they didn't wire him thousands of dollars.

The caller told the couple, who live in Sun City Center, he was a police officer working on a crash that involved their grandson, said Hillsborough Sheriff's deputy Rob Thornton. Believing him, the couple volunteered their grandson's name. The caller said the young man drove a rental car without insurance and that he was injured in the wreck. He told them they had to wire $3,000 or police would transfer their grandson to jail from the hospital for driving without insurance.

In a panic, the couple wired the money through Western Union but grew suspicious when the man called back asking for more, Thornton said. They called their grandson, who said he was fine. Then they called Thornton, who discovered that the money was wired to Canada and untraceable.

As in past scams, retirees acted first to protect their loved one before verifying the information, Thornton said.

"It's horrible, the way these guys play on fears of people for their children and their grandchildren," he added.

Citing embarrassment and grief over what happened, the couple declined requests for comments, Thornton said.

Residents should be wary of any caller asking them to wire money, Thornton said. Scammers prey on retirees in Sun City Center because residents tend to trust more than younger generations, he said.

"They take people at their word, and they expect people to be honest with them," he said.

Other recent scams involved a man posing as a pest-control worker who entered residents' homes, pretended to accidentally spray residents and then offered to help wash off the chemical, but instead drove off with jewelry and other items. In another scam, callers posed as the adult children of several residents, claiming to be in physical danger after owing gambling debt. They persuaded several residents to drop off thousands of dollars in cash inside a designated car parked at local restaurants. The thieves were never caught.

If someone asks for money or otherwise appears suspicious, Thornton tells residents to first call the sheriff's nonemergency number at (813) 247-8200.

If in doubt, residents could also call their local banks, which receive regular updates from the sheriff's office about the latest scams, he said.

"Find a way to contact that relative or the legitimate authorities," he said.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at amrhein@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2441.

Phone scammers target Sun City Center residents 08/20/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 20, 2009 5:30am]
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